The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has received a draft work plan for a national recount from Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield that proposes a stunning 156 days to recount the ballots, something described as unacceptable by one half of the Commission.
This was communicated to the media after the Commission met on Wednesday. An incensed Commissioner Robeson Benn described the proposal as impractical. While he shied away from saying what elements of the plan would take so long, he said that the Secretariat was being most unhelpful in the circumstances.
“I think we are still in the realm of being misled, misinterpreted and the Secretariat itself is not being helpful and practical in coming up with practical solutions based on the environment and situation in which the Commission finds itself,” Benn said.
“We’re looking at the information again and we’re coming back at 09:00h (today) to respond to it. But I’m telling you, fundamentally, in no way, shape or form should we have been provided with a document that gives that type of duration.”
Opposition-nominated GECOM Commissioner Sase Gunraj was similarly incredulous about the plan proposed by Lowenfield. However, Gunraj was hopeful that they could come together to rework the plan into something more reasonable. He was of the view that a recount should take only a matter of days.
“The plan will be reworked. I can confirm that the plan envisages completion in 156 days. I will want to reject that out of hand. This nation cannot survive a 156-day wait, but like I said, we intend to rework it and come back to find a solution.”
“This has to be done in a matter of a very short time. Like I said, we have already waited a month and a week. That cannot be allowed to happen… this country has waited long enough. We counted an entire country in one night. I am saying that if the requisite will is (there), the due diligence is exercised, we can be done with this in short order.”
Attempt to defend
The timeframe was, however, defended by Government-nominated Commissioner Vincent Alexander, who said that the plan took into account counting General and Regional Elections results and balancing all the stubs, among other things – at a rate of two hours per box.
“The plan put forward was a draft for discussion. Nothing in the plan was final…. (but Lowenfield) did not pick 156 out of the air. He would have had some basis. In the first instance, he determined how long it would take to count a box. Two hours per box.”
A statement from GECOM was also released, in which it admitted that while the timeframe is lengthy, it took into account social distancing and projecting the ballots onto a screen. Moreover, the Secretariat emphasised that this proposal was not a final one.
“In this regard, the Secretariat considered the request by the Commission for each ballot to be projected on screen, examination of the contents of the ballot box, ie ascertaining the number of electors on the list, the number of electors who voted, counting votes cast for both General and Regional Elections and validation of spoilt, questioned and rejected ballots.”
GECOM further said that Lowenfield’s proposal was for three work stations to be used for 10 hours per day between 09:00h and 19:00h at a central location likely to be the Arthur Chung Conference Centre. There are 2339 boxes to be counted, at a rate of two hours per ballot box.
It has already been over a month of controversy and a credible winner for the 2020 General and Regional Elections is yet to be declared. After two discredited declarations from Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica) Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo, which lacked transparency, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo and caretaker President David Granger had agreed to have the Caribbean Community (Caricom) oversee the recount.
That agreement was derailed when A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) candidate Ulita Moore moved to the courts and secured an injunction against the exercise. That injunction was discharged by the Full Court and on Sunday, the Full Court’s decision was upheld by the Appeals Court.